What has happened to the Utah offense?
Just two weeks after beating fifth-ranked Stanford, the Utes played their worst game of the season against USC. In losing the turnover battle 4-0, Utah handed the contest to the Trojans. The teams combined for just 471 yards, so the Utes never took advantage Saturday against a mediocre Trojans team that didn’t improve.
Rhett Wilkinson is a project manager for UtahPolicy.com and attends Utah State University. The co-founder of magazine Aggie BluePrint.com, he's been an intern for the Deseret News and other publications. firstname.lastname@example.org | @wilklogan
The Utes committed four turnovers in the first half alone and had just 201 total yards. Backup quarterback Adam Schulz entered the game to fix the problem —twice. He entered late in the second quarter and again one stanza later, not to leave again. He played — not necessarily because starting quarterback Travis Wilson re-injured his throwing hand — but because Wilson was utterly ineffective. The injured Wilson went just 5 of 14 for 51 yards with no touchdowns.
Ultimately, Schulz (7 of 17) hardly helped the situation. On his first series, he threw an interception that led to an unnecessary USC field goal. He got Utah in field goal range on his second possession but not much more. On the Utes’ last possession with time to come back, Schulz was sacked for a 15-yard loss on first down. Utah faced the top defense in the Pac-12, but the Utes had some missed opportunities, particularly with Wilson and Schulz missing open receivers. The Utes also came up short on a fourth-and-1 at the USC 11 midway through the second quarter.
Sixteen of the Trojans' points came off of turnovers, on short fields.
USC didn’t have Marqise Lee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner. Still, Utah’s defense was successful, holding the Trojans to just a 4-of-20 rate on third downs. Remarkably, the Utes held Tre Madden and the Trojans to just 30 rushing yards. USC tallied 261 total.
Trailing 19-3, Utah desperately needed some points to get back in the contest. But kicker Andy Phillips missed a 32-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter. It was his third miss in four tries after making each of his first 11, enough to be named to multiple midseason All-America teams. Phillips’ two misses against Arizona changed the complexion of that game.
USC’s Andre Heidari was just 6 of 11 on field goals entering the game but made four straight before missing one with 4:54 left in the third quarter.
Sophomore receiver Geoff Norwood gave Utah a spark with a 40-yard punt return late in the third quarter.
Head coach Kyle Whittingham and offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson were smart to not keep Travis Wilson in the contest. And no, they should not have played Conner Manning. Throwing a 19-year-old true freshman into the Los Angeles Coliseum, facing a double-digit deficit, would not have been more fruitful than playing a veteran or someone who has been in the program for multiple years.
Still, coaches must take at least partial responsibility for an offense that was completely ineffective.
Since defeating Stanford two weeks ago, the Utes have completely fallen apart. Utah beat BYU five weeks ago, but given the directions of the teams since, the result may very well be different if the game was played now.
The Utes’ defense remains stout, but the offense must reclaim the potency it found under Erickson back in September.